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Community honors ‘good man’ judge upon his retirement

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By Damon Lawrence

Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. is retiring at the end of the month.

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On Tuesday, colleagues, attorneys, friends and family paid homage to his 24 years on the bench during a reception at the Old Roane County Courthouse.

“He has a lot of friends in this community and in the 9th Judicial District,” said Darla Watson, Simmons’ administrative assistant. “It’s phenomenal the friendship that’s being shown and turned out for him for his retirement.”

Kingston attorney Pat Cooley said he was also impressed with the number of people who showed up for the reception.

“Tremendous crowd,” he said. “It just goes to show you he’s been such a good man for this long, you look at all the friends he’s got. It’s incredible.”

Simmons has been the judge for the 9th Judicial District since Sept. 1, 1990. In November of last year he announced that he would be retiring at the end of his term.

“When you go into a job, you know it’s right to go in, and when it’s time to get out, you know it’s time to get out,” Simmons said.

“I’ve reached a point in my life, I know that I’m not going to live forever, and I’ve got the years left that I want to put into other things that I want to do.”

Watson said she wasn’t surprised Simmons chose to step down at the end of this term.

“I figured that he would be wanting to spend more time with his family and with his grandchildren,” she said. “It wasn’t a complete shock. I’m sad to see him leave, but I’m glad that he’s going to be able to spend more time with his family.”

Simmons said it was fitting the reception was held at the old courthouse.

“This is where it started for me,” he said. “In 1970, when we started practicing, this was the courtroom in Roane County.”

Even though he’s been a judge for 24 years, Simmons spoke a lot about his time as a lawyer.

“It was such a neat experience to be a lawyer for 20 years,” he said.

During his speech, Simmons asked all the attorneys in the crowd to stand and be recognized.

Simmons said one of the things he appreciates about lawyers is the job could have them representing a poor person on Monday and the richest person in town on Tuesday.

“That lawyer will fight just as vigorously on Monday as he does on Tuesday,” Simmons said. “That’s why I will always admire the lawyers and what they do to keep our society afloat.”

Simmons also asked all the judges in the crowd to stand and be recognized.

Simmons said the people and the challenges were some of the things he liked most about being a judge.

“I always tried to respect everyone that came in the courtroom,” he said, “and show impartiality and not show any partiality to anybody.”

Simmons said he’s lived a blessed life, and he thanked his wife Roberta and daughters Mary and Sarah for accompanying him on the journey.

“I’ve just been so fortunate to have the family that I got,” he said. “I want to thank you all for putting up with me all these years.”

Simmons also thanked Watson, who has worked for him for 13 1/2 years.

“She’s very loving to people and has kept the office running smoothly and made me look good,” he said, “and I thank you for making me look good.”